Innovative ‘Structural Battery’ Nearly Doubles Drone Air Time

Date: Mar 12, 2019

Newswise — If fully electric regional passenger jets someday fly from Cleveland to Atlanta, aviation historians will likely point out that the first successful in-air test of the battery technology making it possible happened on a frozen Dayton-area airfield in early 2019.

That’s when Case Western Reserve University professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Vikas Prakash—along with state government and private partners—launched an otherwise unremarkable, single-propeller fiberglass airplane into the skies at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and waited to see how long it could fly before running out of juice.

In previous tests, the same automated plane stayed airborne for 91 minutes before the batteries died. This time, with a different set of specialized wings, it kept going and going—for 171 minutes total, nearly three hours aloft without recharge.

The difference: Tucked inside the 6-foot-wide wingspan of the 7-foot-long, red and white unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) were “structural battery” components.

That innovation, being developed by Prakash over the last three years, turns the wings themselves into an extension of the batteries powering the plane. The technology not only extends flight time and distance, but allows more room in the fuselage for critical payload.

For now, that payload would likely be camera equipment for surveillance, not unlike drones already in service. But the vision is that a fully electric regional jet could someday carry materials for delivery and—once scaled up considerably—even passengers.

“That’s the idea, that’s what we’re aiming for in the long run,” said Prakash, who had gained media attention in October 2017 when he was awarded a NASA grant to work toward developing more-electric regional aircrafts.

Collaboration supported by federal, state funding

His latest work is related to the NASA project conceptually and is funded by the Partnership for Research in Energy Storage and Integration for Defense and Space Exploration (PRESIDES) program. That partnership is sponsored by the Ohio Federal Research Network (OFRN) and managed by the Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve.

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